Sydney feasts on sweet treats to get through lockdown

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Roomates Naoka Kojo and Caddie Mao formed Japanese cheesecake business 15centimeters when COVID-19 hit in 2020. Demand for their cheesecakes in flavours such as fresh Tahitian lime, macha and hojicha milk tea was so high they moved to an industrial kitchen at the height of the pandemic. They didn’t think 2021 could be as busy, but then came the latest lockdown.

“It’s 10 times busier than usual. We had 300 cake orders last week,” Mao said.

Naoka Kojo, co-creator of 15centimeters, prepares cheesecakes for baking. Credit:Kate Geraghty

The business has even struggled to source enough ingredients. “We couldn’t get enough sugar during last year’s lockdown. This year it’s hard to buy enough eggs.”

Additional kitchen staff and drivers have been hired, as 15centimeters offers free delivery within a 20-kilometre radius of the Ultimo kitchen.

“We wanted to do free delivery like we did during last year’s lockdown. It’s a gesture from us because people cannot visit each other. We are delivering love and happiness for other people,” Mao said.

Sydneysiders have developed a sweet tooth during lockdown, and many of the city’s bakers are struggling to keep up with the demand for cakes, pastries and other indulgences.

Demand for doughnuts is so high at Camperdown’s Grumpy Donuts that director Elise Honeybrook is having to pitch in with delivery runs herself as well as using staff from her Marrickville diner Valentina’s.

“In addition to my husband and I doing delivery shifts, we’ve put extra people on in the kitchen as well as in front-of-house. We feel so lucky to be able to make sure all our staff across the two businesses didn’t lose any work,” she said.

Honeybrook said the demand wasn’t just because people were feeding their own desire for sweets.

“As soon as people get locked in, they want to send gifts to each other. Most of the deliveries are surprise gifts. It’s really lovely,” she said.

During last year’s Sydney lockdown, Bennett St cafe in Bondi launched its now highly successful Bennett St Dairy. Like Grumpy Donut, Bennett St is using cafe staff to keep up with demand for the production and distribution of its cookie dough. This time last year, it sold more than one tonne of cookie dough a week. This week, it has sold a tonne to wholesale and about two tonnes in home deliveries.

“People like the idea of baking, they’ve got time on their hands and a craving for sweet stuff,” owner James Meek said.

Berliner Baker operates at the Cambridge Markets in Moore Park. Owners Vange and Rachael Kourentis said business was “trading 20 to 30 per cent up”.

The pair sell out of their custard and jam doughnuts at every market and have embraced the increased patronage by offering online delivery that has continued the trend during lockdown.

“It does feel like people are wanting to get out and have a treat as a pick-me-up,” Vange Kourentis said.

“Early morning crowds that are working from home come out between 8 and 9am before their first zoom calls and get treats for later.”

In Granville, Lebanese bakery Abla’s Pastries said its customers were behaving differently.

“Last year during lockdown we were crazy busy, but this lockdown is a little bit different. People can’t predict what’s going to happen from one day to the next. People are very worried, and people are scared,” manager Charlie Abla said.

With Monica Attia

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